Something Funny

Someone once told me that you can make something funny out of nothing. He was the same person who said to me “you’re too intense. If you don’t laugh more your life is going to end up in shambles.” It wasn’t the first time someone had warned me about my future, but it was one of the few times I had decided to listen.
This someone was an eighty-two year old literary genius and for one year, I was his personal assistant. Besides being a prolific playwright, and a bit of a grouch, he was a teacher and a friend. His home became my non-traditional classroom, and what he imparted on to me were stories and life lessons that I didn’t know I needed at the time, but have since proven to be life altering and utterly joyful perspectives.
One of these life lessons begins in February of 2010...
It is a transitional year in my life, and I find myself working as a personal assistant to a man we shall call Husband. My office is his living room, which is nestled between the bedroom of Husband to my right, and the bedroom of Wife to my left. I dive in headfirst to the privacy of their lives, dividing my days between them both. When I work for Wife I am collecting carpet swatches and paying bills. When I work for Husband I am answering phone calls from Dick Van Dyke. When I work for Wife I am buying dental floss and shopping for her at Bergdorf Goodman. When I work for Husband, I am lunching with him at the Friars Club and watching films at the American Academy of Film. Wife leaves me To Do lists and titles them Dear L. Husband sits beside my desk for hours teaching me Yiddish. I am quite fond of Husband who has a childlike quality about him that I imagine is a result of his old age and declining memory - he is beginning to forget things. When he tells me this he takes his hand and begins knocking on his forehead. “Hello? Anyone up there?” he says as he chuckles. He never fails to make me laugh.
The best part of my job happens at lunchtime. Everyday when the clock strikes twelve, Husband and I get ready for our daily stroll. He puts his hat on to keep his balding head warm in the winter, a dabble of suntan lotion on the tip of his nose in case the sun shines on our side of the street, and we walk arm in arm. I steady his stride when we step from sidewalk to asphalt, and we always end at the same expensive Upper East Side dining establishment. We order crab cakes and cobb salads and we smother our popovers in butter. We sit and read words on the menu and laugh at the bizarre nature of language. “You need to really listen to the word,” he says. “Hanger Steak. How do they hanger a steak?” Then he chuckles, I imagine, just as he did as a boy. We end our meal with a cappuccino, decaf coffee, and profiteroles. “Don’t you just love the word profiterole? It sounds like a song.” Then he picks up his hand and waves it around like an orchestra director and sings the word, “proooffiterole.”
It is Tuesday at lunchtime and Husband and I have just finished sharing desert. He gives me a rather serious glance and then begins questioning me about my life. This would become our lunchtime ritual, Husband often asking me the same questions over and over again, his memory loss giving me the opportunity to re-craft my answers. “You’re so melancholy,” Husband says on this particular day. “You need to see the humor in life. Look at that man over there. Tell me all the things that are funny about him.” I give him a blank stare and peek over at the man in his business suit and shrug my shoulders. “Look at his tie. He looks like the wind is blowing him sideways.” Husband laughs and has me try. The woman to the left has a piece of hair sticking up high above her head, the lobster in his salad looks like a funny face. “It’s all in the details,” he says. “You can make something funny out of nothing.”

This becomes our daily ritual. As we walk down the street Husband points to something and has me tell him what’s funny about it. That fire hydrant, this umbrella, the street lamp over there; “Tell me what’s funny about it.” And over time it gets easier and easier. Suddenly I start noticing the funny in everything. I begin laughing alone on the subway, walking down the sidewalk, and by myself in my apartment. My days at work become about silliness. We make up games to pass the time. Husband, the four foot five inch maid, and I play trashcan basketball with crumpled up pieces of stories that he and I discard after writing. We take turns being the sportscaster shouting through a paper megaphone. Husband always wins. We draw pictures, his favorite being the outline of our hands that he titles, “The Hand Affair.” He sings “I feel pretty,” as I dance around the living room while breaking in Wife’s new ballerina flats that are “just a tiny bit too tight.” Husband knows how to make every degrading task humorous. When Wife walks in I run to my seat pretending to type while Husband puts the New York Times in front of his face, both of us trying not to chuckle.

I didn’t have many expectations for this job before it began, but I realize a few months into it is that I am here because Husband has brought me back to life. In the years leading up to this job I had lost my way. I was in between careers and stagnant. I struggled to identify the things that brought me happiness, so I was never moving towards them. I spent a great deal of time re-living painful memories from the past, a sort of heaviness clouding me that I was too afraid to let go of. Put simply, I had forgotten about levity, but here with Husband, I am learning how to laugh again. There is no doubt that the reason I am undergoing Wife’s degradation is because in the midst of being her errand girl, Husband is teaching me about joy.

It’s been almost a year now working for Husband and Wife and I notice my joy is becoming habitual. The more I focus on seeing the funny, the more funny I see. My thoughts are becoming feelings, my feelings are becoming actions, and my actions feel good. What I don’t realize at the time is that my mindsets are shifting, new neural pathways are being created, and I am sensing possibility.

Husband’s life lessons seem to show up so organically that I don’t think to stop and thank him for handing me an invitation back to joy. I assume that he will remain a part of my life and watch me transform as the years go by. However, Wife’s dislike of me results in an irrational email that let’s me know, I’m "no longer needed,” and just like that, it’s over.

When Wife fires me from Husband’s life she doesn’t allow me to come and say goodbye. He forgets more and more so I know after some time all of this will be unremembered, except for the stories I hold onto. To Husband, it will just be a matter of time until I no longer exist. I am a blip in the long prolific life of a funny man, who is sometimes a grouch, but who often does it with humor.

My last day with Husband is just like every other day. We walk arm in arm to our lunch spot where he orders a lobster salad and popovers. We talk about my future and his past. He asks me tough questions about the things I want for myself, and I ask him about his past regrets. In between we share laughs, speak with Yiddish accents, and make a lot of something funnies out of nothing.

On my walk home that evening I stop by a used bookstore and see an old tattered copy of Tom Sawyer – Husband’s favorite book from childhood. “Don’t go buy it for me,” he had said. “I know you.”

As I type this, the book sits on my shelf, a reminder of my tales of joy with Husband, and thereafter. Now, as the sole container of our memories, I take with me these life lessons: 

You can never have enough joy.
Humor, when shared, is vulnerability at it’s finest.
Storytelling is true intimacy.
Laughter is connection on steroids.
And, we can all use a little more of it.
Happy Holidays my friends. May we all have a lavish amount of laughter, a lot more love, a grand dose of connection, and maybe some trashcan basketball in 2017.

Let’s make something funny out of everything.
xo Lisa